ETCHELLS' EXCITING DAY IN ENGLISHTOWN CARRIES INTO THE SEMI-FINALS ENGLISHTOWN, New Jersey, May 17, 1998 - From the very start of his day on Sunday morning at this past weekend's Mopar Parts Nationals, Chuck Etchells had to be fast. When his ...
ETCHELLS' EXCITING DAY IN ENGLISHTOWN CARRIES INTO THE SEMI-FINALS
ENGLISHTOWN, New Jersey, May 17, 1998 - From the very start of his day on Sunday morning at this past weekend's Mopar Parts Nationals, Chuck Etchells had to be fast. When his hotel failed to place his scheduled wake-up call, Etchells found himself mired in race-day traffic. Using moves normally found in feature films, and with the help of a stranger in a pick-up truck, he arrived in time to narrowly complete warming up his Funny Car before driver introductions. But the pre-race excitement was not yet over, as the crew discovered a leak in one of the massive Goodyear racing slicks while towing the car to the lanes for the first round, and had to quickly scramble to return to the pits and change tires. Once this was completed, Etchells and his Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa' Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 provided the remaining thrills on the Old Bridge Township Raceway Park track, posting consecutive 4.91 second elapsed times in powering past Dean Skuza and Tony Pedregon. This earned Etchells a trip to the semi-finals, where he would meet defending Funny Car champion John Force, whom Etchells had defeated twice this season. Without the luxury of lane choice, Etchells was relegated to the less-preferred left lane. Leaving with virtually identical reaction times, both cars shot off the line. However, Etchells soon found himself fighting to maintain traction, allowing Force to drive by for the win.
"We knew we would have to run a '.90 flat or better to beat Force," stated Etchells. "Looking at the computer right now, it was definitely on a run that would have beat him, but the lane wouldn't hold it. It left real hard, and I'm surprised it smoked the tires. Actually, it smoked them at the start, but then dried up and took off. Normally, when it does that, it will keep on going, but today it didn't. When it smoked the tires again I backpedaled it, and when I got back on the throttle it snatched the nose a couple of feet in the air trying to do a wheelstand, so I backed off a second time, and by then he was gone."
As usual, the Englishtown, New Jersey speedplant provided its share of record performances in every category, pressuring drivers, crew chiefs and race crews alike as they scrambled in search of speed. The weather would also play a part, as conditions varied from the cool Friday evening temperatures to a blistering hot Saturday. After his team worked late into Friday night, Etchells rewarded their efforts by securing his place in the field on Saturday morning, when his 4.975-second elapsed time would gain him the sixth position. Taking the afternoon run for race-day information, crew chiefs Tim and Kim Richards established their performance parameters for Sunday. Installing a set-up similar to that used in qualifying, the cooler temperatures helped Etchells combine a 4.912-second elapsed time with the best reaction time of the round to eliminate a tire-smoking Skuza. Even with his car slowed by an engine failure at 1,000 feet, Etchells posted a virtually identical 4.914 effort in defeating Tony Pedregon. However, the hundredths of a second lost by the mechanical misfiring cost him lane choice for the semi-final, and had the crew again using every second of the time allotted between rounds to install a totally new engine for their confrontation with Force.
"This was a very good weekend for the Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Racing team for several reasons," explained Etchells. "We came back very strong after Dallas, qualified in the top half of the field, and advanced into the semi-finals. Although John (Force) will gain a few points on us, we gained on everyone else. We had lot of important sponsors and customers from my business, Union Engravers, here this weekend, and we're happy to give them a good performance. But, with this race over, our focus is already on doing even better in Chicago!"
In Sunday's final, John Force blistered the national speed record for any NHRA competition vehicle with a top speed of 323.89 miles per hour in defeating Jim Epler for his first win of the season.
The NHRA now pauses for Memorial Day weekend before moving on to the inaugural Fram Route 66 Nationals at the brand-new Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois May 28-31.
Funny Car Points Standings (as of 5/17/98): 1.J. Force - 670, 2. Chuck Etchells - 571, 3. C. Pedregon - 552, 4. R. Capps - 535, 5. T. Wilkerson - 495, 6. T. Pedregon - 487, 7. R. Anderson - 379, 8. A. Hofmann - 374, 9. W. Bazemore - 361, 10. D. Skuza - 343.
Big Bud Shootout Points (as of 5/17/98): 1. J. Force - 2150, 2. R. Capps - 1950, 3. T .Pedregon - 1915, 4. Chuck Etchells - 1890, 5. A. Hofmann - 1815, 6. D. Skuza - 1760, 7. C. Pedregon - 1715, 8. W. Bazemore - 1685, 9. R. Anderson - 1635, 10. G. Densham - 1575.